Updated: Jan 28
I always look forward to teaching my class about Frida Kahlo: her amazing life story and her brilliant art. The children love learning about her, and although their outcomes are always high quality, they differ with each new cohort.
I had to share these incredible Frida Kahlo inspired self-portraits by our current Year 6. You know learning has the ability to be life-long when children, some of who had already decided that are no good at Art, tell you, "I LOVE Art now - I'm so proud of my work. Can I show my parents?"
But anyone who loves teaching Art knows - getting children to produce high-quality outcomes takes skill, determination and perseverance on both the teachers and students part. An empathetic understanding of child psychology is pretty important too: as mentioned above, sadly many children have already decided whether they can draw or not by the age of seven. Brace yourself for a fight to convince these fixed young minds: they were never bad at Art and they can still be very good.
When you manage to get every single child wanting to share their work with pride, you know it's a job well done.
Scroll down to see the process of achieving these incredible outcomes. I hope it's useful.
1. We used books, videos and websites to share Kahlo's incredible life story with the children; they were hooked immediately. Our topic focussed on learning about the heart in Science. For Literacy, we read Pig Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman. So, Frida Kahlo and her 'heart' paintings were a perfect fit for the topic.
3. The children worked from photographs of themselves to sketch their self-portraits. Here, I modelled explicitly the importance of using close-observational and trusting the relationship with what the eye sees and what the pencil draws. I know it sounds obvious, but some of my class still thought it would be fine to glance at their photos once in a while and then just make the rest up from memory. We also revised the proportion of the human face and using different shading methods.
4. Next lesson, the children thought how they could incorporate hearts within their art and what they would symbolise. Some children shared their ideas, some children decided symbolism should be personal.
(In Science, the children had already produced scientific drawings of the human heart.)
Using the children's ideas I modelled that stage and also showed them how to incorporate elements of Frida Kahlo's content and style. We used Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird to further inspire us.
5. The children used watercolours to colour wash the main sections of the painting. They were discouraged from colouring in any small details yet.
6. Finally, the children had to sustain their self-portraits over two lessons using a range of mixed media (chalks, oils, pastels, colouring pencils, crayons, watercolours and fine black pens). We had lots of discussion about knowing when your art is finished and pushing yourself to produce your absolute best (and that neither is easy).
Anyway, here are the individual self-portraits in all their glory. Enjoy!
(p.s. Inspired by Frida Kahlo's love of animals, see how a previous year group incorporated my beautiful dog Blondie into their self portraits following a similar process.)